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Votes for women: Nebraska's past and present

Posted at 10:13 AM, Aug 20, 2020
and last updated 2020-08-20 11:13:03-04

LINCOLN, Neb. (KMTV) — This week marks the 100th anniversary of the ratification of the 19th Amendment. Just like their sisters in Washington D.C., women in Nebraska were fighting for the right to vote long before 1920.

“So it even started during the Nebraska territorial period," said Laura Mooney, object curator at the Nebraska History Museum. "And one of the things I like to say is Nebraska was almost the first to have women’s suffrage.”

A suffrage bill was almost passed in the 1850s, falling short when the Senate ran out of time to discuss it. Eventually Nebraska women gained partial suffrage in 1917, which allowed them to vote for presidential electors and city positions, but not state positions.

In 1919, Nebraska finally ratified the 19th Amendment, giving women the full right to vote.

The timeline of women's suffrage in Nebraska is laid out at the Nebraska History Museum. The objects from Nebraska women's fight for the right to vote will be on display until next spring.

The display acknowledges that when talk about voting rights for women, we must acknowledge the barriers that have been put in place for people of color. In Nebraska, racism was part of the suffrage movement.

“In the 19-teens there were some suffrage associations in Omaha that were being organized with Africa American women," Mooney said. "So we do have newspaper accounts showing that those suffrage organizations were being formed at that time. But there was racism in the movement nationally and locally, you do see that in the pamphlets that were distributed.”

Other laws like the Civil Rights Act and Indian Citizenship Act did help tear down some of the obstacles.

Now, 100 years after the passage of the 19th Amendment, voters worry a new obstacle has arisen, specifically whether or not they will be able to vote by mail.

“I think if we were just dealing with COVID, I would feel pretty good about it," Dianne Bystrom, co-president of Nebraska's League of Women Voters, said. "The thing about the postal service is it has complicated things. But I think it's early enough, and I think that there now is a push back, and I think there’s even recognition. I would think that this is a nonpartisan issue, because if I were in Congress, and I represented a rural area of Nebraska, in some ways those rural citizens rely much more on the mail.”

On Wednesday, the Secretary of State announced that all registered voters in Nebraska would received an application for mail-in ballots.

Bystrom said she does expect voters, especially women, to overcome this obstacle, just like they have been doing for decades.

“By 1964 women made up the majority of voters and every presidential election since," Bystrom said. "In 2016, 10 million more women than men voted in 2016.”

The League of Women Voters is offering a nonpartisan voter guide on their website.